who put the latkes in harry truman’s gatkes?

December 21st, 2006

Celeriac carrot latkes

Every Hannukah, my tone-deaf father who sang “in the key of R” would sing “Who put the latkes in Harry Truman’s gatkes?” No, that’s not the name of a song. It’s just a silly phrase that he’d sing intermittently, while preparing the holiday dinner. I have no idea who put potato pancakes in Harry Truman’s underwear, or why, for that matter.

Last night I finally girded my loins to make our first Hannukah dinner for this year. I’ll be making potato pancakes on Friday for a holiday party, so I wanted to make something a little bit different. Hannukah is all about fried foods, potatoes just happen to taste good when fried. So I opted for celeriac carrot pancakes.

These are a little trickier than potato pancakes, as the celeriac and carrots lack the potato starch that helps bind together traditional latke batter. As long as you squeeze out any excess water and fry them at a fairly high heat, these fritters should come out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. You could use avocado or safflower oils coconut oil or schmaltz for frying, as these fats tend to have a high smoking point (see note below). I used bacon fat to fry the majority of my latkes. It’s cheaper and imparts a subtle smokey flavor to the fritters. Be sure to turn on your kitchen fan to drive out the greasy bacon odors. (The noise of the fan also helps drown out the sound of your Jewish ancestors turning over in their graves.)

The flavor of these pancakes is both sweet and earthy, with a touch of the metallic sharpness of celeriac. Apple sauce is redundant here, the carrots are sweet enough. A little sour cream, crème fraîche, or yogurt are fine toppings. A mixed holiday genres by topping his with cranberry sauce. I prefer sour cream.

carrot celeriac latkes

300 grams celeriac, washed, peeled, and trimmed
300 grams carrots, washed and trimmed (don’t bother peeling)
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 eggs, beaten
a scant pouring of matzah meal, just a tablespoon or two
about 1-2 TBS freshly minced dill
about 1 scant TBS salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
fat for frying (choose a fat with a high smoking point, such as grapeseed oil, coconut oil, or rendered animal fat such as schmaltz or, ahem, bacon fat)

  • Cut the vegetables to fit the chute of your food processor, and process using the grater attachment. If you’ve got time and want to work out your biceps, grate the vegetables manually. Alternate between celeriac, onion, and carrot (the onion prevents the celeriac from oxidizing).
  • Mix in the beaten eggs. Add a little matzah meal if the batter looks like it needs help keeping together.
  • Season with dill, salt, and pepper and mix well.
  • Heat your fat in a heavy frying pan on a medium-high flame (I like cast-iron). Optionally, heat fat in two large pans to more efficiently cook all the latkes.
  • When the fat is very hot, place a large soup spoonful of batter in the pan and flatten the batter with the back of the spoon. You want a very thin fritter that just keeps together. Repeat until the pan is full. You want some space between each latke, and you don’t want to crowd the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, you’ll probably be able to fry two to four latkes in each pan.
  • When the latkes turn brown at the edges, turn them over with a spatula. Fry until the other side is browned.
  • Taste the first batch of latkes. Correct the seasoning if necessary.
  • Fry the rest of the batter, allowing the latkes drain on some paper towel.
  • As you fry, monitor the heat of the frying pan. You may need to adjust the heat slightly, up or down, as you go along. If the latkes are too brown, you may need to turn the heat down a little. If they take too long to cook and aren’t crisp, you may need to turn the heat up. Be sure to melt more fat in the pan between batches. Then allow enough time for the fat to heat up.

Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche with a bit of dill for garnish, and optionally, a slice or two of gravadlax.

Serves 2-4

Note: Check out this page for a list of oils and their smoking points. Avocado and safflower oils have the highest smoking point.

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